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Friday, November 03, 2017


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A man is in the crowed. He is wearing a red scarf. The man is carrying a poster of Che.
The terms ‘a man .. he .. the man’ form what Chastain and Brandom call an anaphoric chain. Consider what happens when we replace the definite terms with indefinite ones.
A man is in the crowed. A man is wearing a red scarf. A man is carrying a poster of Che.
Each indefinite description initiates a fresh anaphoric chain which can be picked up by subsequent anaphor sentences.

Anaphor licenses inferences which bundle the predicates. Thus from the first narrative we can infer ‘a man in the crowd, wearing a red scarf is carrying a poster of Che’. From the second one, we can’t.

>> Similarly, we can say that the existentially general sentence 'There is a man in the crowd,' considered by itself apart from the perceptual situation in which the speaker visually singles out a man with a red scarf holding a Che poster, is not about any particular man

Contra: I can perfectly well say that the sentence ‘The man is carrying a poster of Che’ is about the man in the red scarf. Note that my use of ‘the man in the red scarf’ is itself a part of, and extends the anaphoric chain begun in the narrative above.

1. There is a man in the crowd
2. He is wearing a red scarf

Sentence (1) is true if and only if a man is in the crowd, and also true if the man is in the crowd. But not true only if the man is in the crowd. Perhaps the man is not in the crowd, but some other man is.

Sentence (2) by contrast is true if and only if the man is wearing a red scarf. The definite article, or a pronoun or any other properly singular term gives us the ‘only if’ condition. Put another way, a sentence whose subject is ‘the F’ implies the corresponding sentence with ‘an F’. But doesn’t work the other way round.

I was struck by Bill's 'You don't see some man or other, but a definite man, ...'

If there is a puzzle here isn't it captured in the phrase 'a definite man', which is itself indefinite!?

Hi David,

That is indeed a puzzle and its has bugged me all my philosophical life. The problem is that one can't quite SAY what one MEANS. One can't see a man without seeing a definite man, a particular man, but every man is a definite man or a particular man.

More generally, there are many particulars. So 'particular' is a general term. But each particular is a *particular* particular. But I cannot put into words what makes this particular particular the particular that it is.

The *thisness* (haecceity) of a particular cannot be conceptualized or put into words. We say it is ineffable. Individuum qua individuum ineffabile est.

Some say that the ineffable, precisely because it is a-rational and inexpressible, does not exist, is nothing at all. (Hegel)

Wittgenstein says, *Es gibt allerdings das Unaussprechliche.* But we must remain silent about it.

I am looking at a man in a crowd containing several men. I say, truly, 'There is a man in the crowd.' Can I write a sentence that expresses the content of that very perception, a sentence containing a term that singles out the one man I am looking at and distinguishes him from every other actual and possible man?

I say No. So it seems all reference must be in some sense general.

>>If there is a puzzle here isn't it captured in the phrase 'a definite man', which is itself indefinite!?


Like? You may be spending too much time on Facebook, Ed.

In Translations from the Philosophical Writings, Frege denies there can be a variable number. A number cannot vary, for a cube cannot turn into a prime number, an irrational number never becomes rational. So we do not have proper names for variable numbers. Nor can there be an indefinite man. Is the number nindefinite? No, for we are not acquainted with the number n, nor is ‘n’ the proper name of any number, definite or indefinite.

We write the letter ‘n’ in order to achieve generality. We may speak of ‘indefiniteness’, but this is not an adjective of the number, but rather an adverb of the way it is signified.

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